The UK government has revealed its Autumn 2023 statement, introducing a raft of measures and investments including £520m ($652.9m) for life sciences funding, changes to R&D tax credits, and clinical trials accelerator schemes.

The UK’s Conservative government announced the Autumn statement on 22 November, delivered  by the Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt, and life sciences funding took a special focus with a significant number of investments.

Among the commitments in the Autumn Statement, $51m ($64m) has been set aside for the Our Future Health initiative, which aims to provide the National Health Service with the means to recruit more patients into clinical trials and prevent, detect and treat diseases in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Our Future Health scheme hopes to recruit more than a million participants from across the UK to take part in genomics research, with a determination to genotype the first 1 million participants signed up to the programme.

At the same time, it includes funding for the government-owned Genomics England, with the aim of developing a the Rare Therapies Launch Pad, which will generate evidence on pathways for new individualised therapeutics for children with ultra-rare diseases.

Additionally, the Autumn Statement officially outlines the previously announced 2024 Voluntary Scheme for Branded Medicines Pricing, Access, and Growth scheme. A collaboration between the UK government and the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) to help limit costs for the NHS £14bn ($17.5bn) over five years. The agreement will see the level of annual allowed growth in sales of branded medicines doubling from 2% in 2024 to 4% by 2027.

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Reacting to the release of the statement, Chief Executive of the ABPI Richard Torbett said: “The Chancellor has recognised the high potential of UK life sciences to deliver the jobs and growth the country needs. This package of support will help boost our sector’s investment in UK-based research and manufacturing.

“Alongside commitments in the new Voluntary Scheme agreement to improve the ecosystem for innovative medicines, as well as progress to address challenges in industry clinical trials, the UK is getting back on track to realise the Prime Minister’s vision of being a life sciences superpower.”

The Autumn statement comes at a tenuous time for the UK healthcare industry, after a report from the ABPI found a slight increase in the rate of clinical trials launched in the UK, rising by 4.3% over previous years. Rising but not fast enough to truly re-establish the UK’s clinical trials sector.

In response to this, the statement sets out £121m ($151m) specifically for clinical trials, with £20m ($25.1) of that being set aside for initiatives such as the Clinical Trial Accelerator scheme aimed at producing treatments for dementia, which had previously been announced in May.

Additionally, the fund includes £10m ($12.5m) for the government agency, Scottish Enterprise, to develop a manufacturing centre in Paisley intended to develop a novel class of therapeutic molecules to be used for the treatment of a wide variety of diseases. It also includes a £5m grant to support the establishment of the Fleming Centre to tackle rising concerns and protect against antimicrobial resistance.

All of this comes shortly after the previous UK Health Minister, Steve Barclay, was removed from his position following a cabinet reshuffle that saw MP for Louth & Horncastle, Victoria Atkins, taking control of the department. Overseeing and implementing many of these investments is expected to comprise a large part of her attention for the rest of the year.

Away from clinical trials, in the Autumn Statement, the chancellor also confirmed a further £500 million for artificial intelligence (AI) over the next two financial years bringing the total planned investment to more than £1.5bn. That also included a previously announced £100m ($125m) AI Life Sciences Accelerator Mission, announced by the Prime Minister, which will use health data and AI to tackle what the statement calls “pressing health concerns.”

Additionally, the statement also reworks the current framework for Research and Development tax credits, removing the allowance for a third party. From 1 April 2024, R&D claimants will no longer be able to nominate a third-party payee for R&D tax credit payments, subject to limited exceptions.

This means that payments of R&D tax reliefs will be paid directly to the company that claims for the R&D, ensuring they have full oversight of the claim, with the aim of ensuring they receive payment quicker, a move that has been met generally positively from the industry.

Nigel Layton, head of pharma at Manchester accounting firm, Mazars, said: “Businesses in the life sciences industry welcome the announcements from the Autumn Statement. The simplification of the R&D tax relief scheme will give firms that are at the forefront of innovation a welcome and much-needed saving. Further to this, the £520m investment for the life sciences industry and the development of world-class British pharma companies, is a clear signal of the Government’s commitment to the development of the sector.”

The Autumn Statement has made clear efforts to address many concerns among the UK’s life science industries in which a number of external and economic factors have impacted the country’s projected growth.

A 2023 report published by GlobalData on the post-Brexit impact on the UK’s life sciences sector found that 83% of respondents from the EU and 71% from the UK stated that the UK was no longer an attractive destination for healthcare research.

Addressing the statement, Steve Bates, CEO of the UK BioIndustry Association (BIA), said: “Today’s Autumn Statement by the Chancellor has announced a significant package of investment and support to help turbocharge this innovative industry in the UK.

“The Government’s £520 million investment in life sciences manufacturing will ensure more of those medicines being developed are also produced here, resulting in jobs across the UK and export revenues.

“Increased flexibility in the tax relief scheme for R&D intensive companies will make a meaningful difference to company growth, job creation and accelerating the delivery of new medicines to patients.”